Homeschool Hubbub: What Curriculum?

I promised a long time ago to talk more about our homeschooling. Since we’re coming up on a new school year I thought I’d better get my act in gear and answer more of your questions. (We’re starting August 3. Read this post  from last year to understand more about why I like to start so early!)  Here’s the question I’ll cover today:

How do you design your curriculum? Do you do the pre-packaged stuff or customize your own?

I guess I do a little bit of both. And I kind of go about it in a weird way…but it works for me and I love it. It takes several hundred hours to figure out and put together…but I love that too because I love surrounding myself with our books for the year.

Here’s how it works for us:

We’ve chosen to use Sonlight curriculum We completely, totally and absolutely love Sonlight.  It is literature based and teaches the kids about history and science and life and all of God’s people all over the world in such a fun and natural way. Instead of textbooks…we read and learn from regular books. Regular really, really good books. I can’t believe how much I’ve learned from this curriculum (and the kids have learned an awful lot too!).

The reason I say that I sort of put my curriculum together myself is this:  I’ll have a 7th grader, a 4th grader, a 2nd grader and a four year old this year. I love all of Sonlight’s recommended books, but I’m not able to teach four different grade levels to my four different boys (and still keep up with their laundry).

I use Sonlight curriculum catalog as a guide…then I piece together what books and subjects we’ll cover for the year. I do this for history, science, Bible and read-alouds.

This year, for instance, we’ll all be studying American History. I will be using several of the books recommended for the 3rd and 4th grade level…and several from the 7th grade level and use them altogether for all the boys.

So far this method works well for us (although this year or next year may be our last year for combining all the kids together since Asa’s working his way toward <cough> high school).

What I’ve found is that my littlest boys catch quite a bit of information…Justus catches more…and Asa learns even more than that. It’s working great and I love that we’re all working on the same materials together. It makes for some pretty cool discussions and some awesome times together plopped together in the living room on couches and pillows.

The beauty of homeschooling is that you can teach your family in whatever way works best to teach your family. Almost all curriculums out there have a very easy and detailed teacher guide to make homeschooling possible and simple for every parent. Sonlight rocks in that department with super detailed week-by-week teacher guides. I just go about it in a different sort of way and create my own teacher guide/school outline because that’s what works best for my family at this point in our schooling.

And…have I ever mentioned how much we LOVE homeschooling in our family?  Our books have started arriving and you would think it’s Christmas. I love how excited the boys get! Coming up…I’ll share about our homeschool budget, what books we’ll be using this year…and I’ll answer more of the questions mentioned in this post. I’ll also try to share more of the books and programs we like for math and phonics, etc.

Any of you other homeschoolers care to share what curriculum you like and how you go about planning your school year?


  1. Jessica says

    We LOVE “MY Fathers World” curriculum. I can’t say enough good about it! You school all your children from 2nd grade – 8th grade together for bible, history, science,read out louds,art, music & they have it all written out for you..what you need to do…you don’t have to plan anything!! All you have to teach on their own is math, English & spelling & they recommend those & have the spaces in the weekly lesson plans. All the planning is done for you. So great for busy moms. MFW works great! I have had 4 friends switch over to MFW & love it since hearing me love it so much! We made the change 3 years ago & have been so happy! Every family has to find what is best for them!


  2. says

    We are also using My Father’s World this year. I love that I can teach all ages together. I tried Sonlight last year but, was very overwhelmed. I love the fact that I can get all my books from the library without it costing me $$$. Since we go there every week anyways, I might as well use more of their books and save $$. I’m starting Aug 3 also. That way I don’t have to compete with others for the same books. That’s the only negative thing, you have to hope the library has the books you want.


  3. says

    Another MFW user. We are only on 1st grade level but love it. It’s nice to hear of someone else starting August 3rd…we start early too! :-)


  4. says

    lol, We’re starting My Father’s World K this fall and I’m very excited about it! I put up a few posts on my blog about getting organized and some of the other resources we’re pulling together to use with it.


  5. says

    My four kids are the same age spacing!! Cool! Well, I think so… I haven’t met anyone with the same age spacing for ALL four of my kids. Of course, yours are all four years older than mine. Currently mine are 1, 2, 5, 8. Anyway, this is a big deal to me because you have been through and survived where I am now in my life… and you homeschool (we started mid-year this past year), so I can learn from you. My biggest fear is that one day I will have to teach all four at the same time. I know the older ones will be able too work more independently by then, but it is hard to comprehend in this stage of my life. Right now my struggles involve teaching while my two-year old is running amuck and my infant is clinging to my hip. ;) I would love to hear how you managed it all when they were littler, if you ever need a blog topic! :)

    Also, I had someone suggest Sonlight to me before, but it did not really understand why. This post kind of cleared that up for me. Thanks!


  6. says

    We use Five In A Row as our main curriculum, but I also have been known to create our own unit studies for the kids. However, truth be told we do lots of CM stuff too..


  7. says

    I’ve heard rave reviews about Sonlight, too. I love Usbourne books, so we have a lot of their recommendations. I tend to gather resources as I discover them, knowing what my kids’ interests and learning styles are. I definitely get excited about shopping for school supplies at the end of summer — even though we’re unschoolers. That was my excuse for blowing my book budget in MAY!

    So funny… we’ve called ourselves unschoolers for a very long time, though I do love to plan things for the kids. ;) This week, my 8yo actually asked if we could start HOMEschooling instead of UNschooling! He wants to do math for an hour every day! Who am I to argue? Though I do wonder how anyone has time for so much “bookwork.”


  8. Jessica says

    Shannon, I have 6 kids ages 10, 8, 6, 5, 3, &1. Using a curriculum like MFW works great for having so many kids close together b/c you school all the kids together for many subjects 2nd -8th grade…That is only one reason we use MFW..the other is it is just great and VERY bible based! You learn so much each year about the Lord as well as every other subject. In our 3 years so far w MFW I have learned so much myself and my kids just love it and want to do school each day. When we used A Beka they did not like it. When we made the change my 1st born said to me….” I am sad I did not get to use MFW 1st grade like sister and brother got to” it it so much more fun than what she got to do!
    Anyway it can be hard @ first trying to organize so many kids in school/close together in age, but once you sit down & write out a schedule for the day it all flows very well.
    Have you read the Maxwells book “Managers of their homes” That is a great book for moms helping you schedule the day! I love it!


  9. Melissa says

    We are super excited to begin a new cirriculum this year we are using Heart of Dakota. My I have a 2nd grader, one starting kindergarten, a 3 yr old and almost 2 year old. I love everything about this cirriculum and really feel like it combines the great literature from Sonlight and the hands on from MFW at a smaller cost (which is always incentive for me!) We can’t wait to start!
    Thanks for the idea about the making a list and taking them school supply shopping , my girls would love that!


  10. says

    Thanks for sharing about your homeschool curriculum for this year! As a former teacher, I really like the books used in Sonlight but know that if we end up homeschooling I will have to do whatever I can to save money (like use the library, buy used, and I do buy Usborne books at discount (because I am a consultant).

    I’ve had Ambleside Online(free) recommended to me (Charlotte Mason) but am confused by how to use the site. I think it is pretty much just book lists….



  11. Nancy says

    I use Ambleside Online, as it is a free homeschool curriculum that is supposed to resemble the curriculum that Charlotte Mason used in her charter schools. Im a huge Charlotte Mason fan! I love that as a homeschool family we can use real literature instead of textbooks for our learning. Of course the books can be expensive, but many of them can be found online for free or through the library. Im so glad it dosnt have to cost lots of money to homeschool!


  12. Melissa Slayton says

    This is my third year of homeschooling, and we LOVE it! I absolutely adore the Bob Jones University curriculum. My boys thrive on it! I have a 6th grader and a 3rd grader this year (hard to believe!). We start school early, though we are a week after you Laura. :) My boys are ready for more structure by then, and it’s nice to have such flexibility if we take a trip or whatever (and we can still meet our state requirements).

    I, too, am a fan of the Maxwells. I have all 3 “Managers” books. I just finished “Managers of their Schools.” They are such a great resource — scheduling, chores, etc.


  13. janna says

    I have three boys, ages 11,9 and 8 and we have always used Sonlight. This year, however… we are not. I have always kept mine on the same core and we have reached Eastern Hemisphere Core. We just moved and I decided to wing it for the year. I will probably regret it-knowing how much I love Sonlight, but I just didn’t want to do Asia for a year. We are going to do Texas History, States and Presidents for History and use the Veritas Press Literature selections for each boy. I am making my own lesson plans. We will be using a mix and match approach this year for eveything else. Have a great school year!


  14. L-C says

    I was homeschooled for high school only, and I used the curriculum from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Independent Study High School. I loved being homeschooled, and I really loved the UNL curriculum because I leaned so much. It was quite a heavy-duty program–probably the opposite of the “unschooling” philosophy, but I loved it despite that. (And my mom loved it because it was properly accredited, and also because she hardly had to do a thing!) Although I don’t think concrete “book learning” is the only education children should receive, I did appreciate all the “book learning” I did with this curriculum, because I find that I don’t feel ‘ignorant’ in the world; I have that core knowledge about math, history, physics, chemistry, biology, literature, etc etc. So, I’d definitely recommend the UNL-ISHS curriculum. It was a lot of work though–to get through high school in 4 years, I was working year-round! And for my graduation photo, we took a picture of me next to my stack of text books, which was 5 feet tall!!


  15. says

    What about languages- foreign languages? I only ask because while I was job searching and soul searching I thought it would be neat to teach Hebrew. But not many schools have it as a class . . . but I thought Christians- particularity home schooled individuals might want to learn Hebrew. Do you get outside help for languages or other stuff you don’t know real well? If so- where do you find that help?


  16. says

    We just started this year with my son who is almost 5 (named Asa). We started 2 weeks ago to get a jump start before I go back to school next month. Anyway, we are using a mix of curriculum. Our primary is Five in a Row and we are loving it! Math is Bob Jones, Explode the Code (Phonics), Reading Made Easy, CM Scripture Memory and Right Choices (Bible/Character). We also plan to incorporate Anna Comstock’s Handbook of Nature Study into the mix. We did our first (official) nature study today and it was great!


  17. says

    I have used 3 different curriculums since I started homeschooling my son in kindergarten. We started with PACES from the School of Tomorrow. We didn’t care for that, so we used ABEKA the next year. That didn’t seem to work for us either. Then, we found Sonlight. We love, love, love it. This will be our 3rd year using it. I love that it is all inclusive and has my lessons planned for me. It makes my life much easier and school so very interesting.

    As for Taryn’s question about foreign language – Rosetta Stone is awesome. I’m not sure if they offer Hebrew, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they did. It can be pretty pricey, though.


  18. Kika says

    This year I’ll have kids in grade 8, grade 5 and a preschooler (4yo). It is getting harder to study together as the age gap ( 9yo and 13yo) seems bigger now re: maturity and ability to comprehend/discuss. But still, we share many read-alouds, and study history and science together (largely) although I need to work hard at not forcing my middle child into the same work-load as her big brother. I love pulling resources together from all over and sense that God directs me to a new focus each year (ex. an area that we need to concentrate on). I have a strong dislike for packaged curriculm (apart from math; we use Saxon) as it steals the joy of planning from me :) Once I find a resource we love I am likely to repeat it for the younger siblings and I am slow to buy “new & better” materials no matter how many people rave about them. I believe in simplicity in all areas of life – including in our homeschooling.


  19. Lois says

    We use KONOS, which is a great hands-on character-building curriculum. Some people find it overwhelming in the mom dept. but I sort of like to plan and choose which activities we will do. This year my daughter will be doing their History of the World for high school, and my 6th grade son and I will try their on-line coop for a semester and see how it works.

    When they were younger, we did all the Five in a Row volumes, which led to unit studies which led to KONOS. I miss the simple days of FIAR! I have always used the reading list from Sonlight and check the books out of the library. I have even found some of the “specialized” books at library sales and thrift stores! God is so good to provide what I’m looking for.


  20. says

    This will be my first year homeschooling I will have 9th, 6th & 4th grade, we are pretty excited about it, we are going to try the Lifepac so far I like what I see


  21. says

    I am interested in your procedure for combining the two different do you make your own plans? Do you buy the separate instructor guides and use them to combine…or do you do it all on your own? I am using Sonlight for the first time with my K student this year. She has a younger brother 2 years younger. I am interested in putting them together in a couple of years. I also have a 10yo, 12yo, and 14 yo. I used KONOS with them for the last 8 years, but I am not going to do KONOS with the younger two. Sonlight seems to be the path I want to take with these younger ones.
    I am using a variety of textbooks and All Through the Ages literature guide for our literature based history.
    I am enjoying reading your blog.


  22. says

    I’ve been reading this post and all the comments with great interest. My son is in 2nd grade this year, and I put together my own curriuculum for him in kindergarten and 1st grade, but this year I want a more structured curriculum for him. I’m going to check out all the ones mentioned here. :)


  23. Tia says

    I have a 3 yr old and am just beginning to consider what type of schooling we will do with her. I am open to homeschooling, but want to make an educated decision on what to do when the time comes. I am overwhelmed at this point with all the various kinds of curriculum. How do you choose what is best??? Are there different kinds of approaches with these textbooks?


    Janet Reply:

    There are definitely widely varying approaches represented in the comments section here.

    My Father’s World and KONOS are what we call unit studies. A theme is used to pull all the subjects together, and all preK to about 8th grade study together. For example, if the theme is courage, then Bible stories, biographies, writing assignments, art projects and activites revolve around that theme. The assignments are tailored to the abilities of each child.

    The Charlotte Mason (CM) approach means a little less structure, a lot of reading aloud together, and a lot of learning through life experiences such as gardening or nature walks.

    Sonlight and Ambleside seem to me to be someone’s attempt to make the Charlotte Mason approach into curriculum. I could be wrong about that, but they both involve a lot of reading aloud together, and at least Sonlight (I haven’t used Ambleside) then has worksheets over the material.

    Bob Jones, A Beka, ACE, and Alpha Omega are traditional textbooks that Christian schools might use.

    Then there is classical, delight directed learning, and unschooling. Most families do a combination of methods. The only way to choose what is best is to discuss it with your husband, take it to God, and make the decision that seems best for your child and family situation. You will make mistakes, and waste money on curriculum that didn’t work for you, but that’s okay because in the end it is not the curriculum that is teaching your child, but you, through a living, loving relationship.


  24. Homeclynn says

    Just a note about Spanish. I have a degree in Spanish and I really love You can use much of it for free, but the whole thing cost less than $100 a year. It teaches classical Spanish. You could use it for 5th grade through college. I do not like typical “conversational spanish” curriculums because they are too situational. For example, unless you are sitting at a red table on a sunny day and want to order a latte, you will be lost. What if you are at a yellow table on a cloudy day and want to send back the bad fish? You get the idea.


  25. Nancy says

    My son is 3 and we have been doing our own thing this year. I’m debating on buying a curriculum for next year and was considering sonlight. Do you think it is necessary to buy a curriculum for preschool? Thanks :)


    Laura Reply:

    It definitely isn’t a necessity – children that age learn so much through having books read to them and by making everyday life experiences a “lesson.” Having said that, I created an early learners curriculum based off of what we did with our kids when they were little. It’s loaded with ideas you might enjoy! You can check it out here:


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